After an intense week beyond the wall Odiri treated herself to a hot bath and a bottle of sake to enjoy alone in her room. Looking forward to the peace and quiet of her room she climbed the stairs to the residential floor of the Rose Shell Tea House only to be startled by one of of Madam Saru’s ladies airing the quilted bed. “Oh I’m sorry I did not know you would be back from your bath so soon!” the maid apologizes meekly. “I’m almost done with your room and I will be out of your hair.” The maid bustles about picking up a few empty bottles scattered in the room and asks “How was your last adventure? You seem…different” Odiri chuckles thoughtfully and sits down on her low bed. “I don’t even know where to start.” Odiri’s face dims and floods with palpable uncertainty. The maid sits down next to her on the small bed and smiles comfortingly at her “The begining is always a good place to start?”
“Well how far to go back…” Odiri takes a small sip of sake to calm her nerves recalling the events of the last week. “You remember the boar hide I’ve been tanning out in the farmlands? Well, we had plans to build a yurt out of it, a day's walk Northeast from the wall as a waystation for the Carved Table Charter folks. We made arrangements with Madam Saru to get enough supplies to keep at the waystation for emergencies but knew it would take her time to gather them up so, Oranssi, Naligor, Eucarion and I started to plan our trip. I’ll be honest… Eucarion and I were fairly intoxicated for the early hour because we never really stopped drinking from the night before. I don’t remember too much of our planning time in the tea house other than Eucarion shouting at Naligor for making advances at Charka. I can without hesitation claim that I have never once, and hopefully never again after this last week, heard a man say ‘Please don’t fuck my dog!’ Charka seems to actually take a shine to Naligor while he is in his wolf form which is equally disquieting and seemingly natural.” Odiri shakes her head slightly and takes another sip of sake and offers some to the maid.
“Oranssi was on about having a cauldron commissioned for the waystation and Eucarion forgot he had his armor fitting with Kenton so we left the in Tea House to make our way to the forge. We made it about halfway there before, the boys being boys, start getting lewd. The four of us were walking abreast with Eucarion and I in the middle. Naligor had the poor taste to bring up the incident on the ship over between me and the first mate and that gods awful fermentation he supplied. In the midst of all this licentious banter Oranssi asks Eucarion, right over my head, ‘What? You’ve never fucked a halfling?’ At first I was appalled that a man of his standing would be so vulgar let alone in my presence, then I realized…..I wanted to know the answer. But, the answer I got next was not one I was ready for. ‘No, but I have vows to keep’ he responds. I lost my step. Naligor continues to ask questions that I
really did not want to know the answer to. I easily fell paces behind them. I was…. In shock I think. Eucarion had a wife. I was so fucking naive to think he did not.” Odiri pulls her knees to her chest and hides her face but continues muffled, “I told them I forgot something back at the Tea House and just took off as hard as I could run only to be halted by magical means. I turned back to see Oranssi using his this magic to keep me in my place and Naligor pleading for him to release me. As my distress swelled within me, Xiao came to my defense standing at his full height in front of Oranssi. I felt the magic release from me like a dry twig snapping. Without even looking back, I bolted as fast as my small legs could take me back to my room, tears welling in my eyes. How could I have been so blind, so dumb, so ignorant? What fucking meaning does a few flowers crowns in the forest have against the covenant of marriage? I couldn’t get his nonchalant face out of my head. Thoughts of ‘how could he have lead me on like that’ just spiraled in my mind as tears poured from my eyes for what felt hours. Naligor broke me out of my tearful, alcohol fueled, heartsick stupor by begging me to come downstairs for something to eat. I wiped my face free of tears and steeled myself to be the polite person my parents raised me to be despite the despair sitting like a brick in the pit of my stomach. As we reached the bottom of the stairs my ears were assaulted with casual talk of whores. In that moment I had decided I would leave Port Shore Blossom. They had no use for me. These pigs had their ranger. I was just some woman to be referenced in the same breath as a whore. I planned to take the next ship out of port which I knew was coming in a few days. Just enough time to help them finish the yurt and leave.”
Odiri stretches out of her defensive curl and continues to drink from the bottle of sake occasionally passing it back and forth with the maid who had been comfortingly rubbing small circles on her shoulders “I walked out of Rose Shell without saying a word or even meeting a questioning glance. My distress melted into a rage.That rage consumed me like rice paper in a fire. I needed release so I spent the rest of that damned day stretching and tanning the last of the boar hide. I returned home to the Rose Shell buzzing with aggression. Having lost all ability to sleep I sat in my bed and stewed in my growing anger till the next day. We left as soon as the supplies from Madam Saru were ready around noon. We loaded the bamboo skid attached to Xiao with the various foods and supplies and took off. Naligor knew I was in rough shape and bartered with a couple extra casks of wine for the trip and I was beyond grateful. Since we had not left at dawn like we usually do we only made it to about the halfway point between the wall and the Gaea Shrine. I chose to hang back with Xiao and the skid to keep as far away from Eucarion as I could. Just the sight of the back of him tore at me like thorned vines that seemed to get tighter the more you struggled. I couldn’t understand how he could go from charmingly playful one moment to heartless the next. Tensions were high that evening as we decided on watches. All I could think of was that bamboo crown I woke with on our last trip outside of these walls. I volunteered for the morning shift with a spiteful mutter to Eucarion ‘because apparently halflings need sleep’ and curled up against Xiao forgoing a tent for the favor of the good weather and a warm panda.”
“I tossed and turned for a few hours not able to truly rest. When I finally felt the tiniest hand of sleep grasp me I was awoken by the searing pain of a serrated blade in my gut. I thought ‘This is it. I’m not even going to get a chance to get on that damned boat. I am going to die here and now.’ My instincts betrayed me, rather than locate my attacker, I looked for him. When I saw Eucarion was at least standing, I focused my attentions on my own survival. But I was plagued with the bitter pill that I still cared for him despite his transgressions. There were fourteen of those nasty Kobolds in total, split between the sky and ground. My insecurities drained away as we successfully began picking them off one by one. Naligor has come into some powerful magicks allowing him to control the moon’s light for his own defense which came to be quite helpful. What I was not prepared for was Naligor to take the form of my worst nightmare. A Giant Wolf Spider spilled forth to replace him where he stood. I could not help but to scream…and continue to scream. I was hysterical. I was beyond help. I was exhausted and completely unglued and felt as though my heart would literally fall to the ground from under my ribs as I just continued screaming between ragged breaths. Even though I saw Naligor return to his human form I could not help but scream a few more times even though I myself did not know why I was screaming. Was I screaming about the spider? Was I screaming about my broken heart? Was I screaming because the mere thought of Eucarion had kept me from true sleep for 2 nights. After a gulp of air my hysterics seemed to slowly dissipate and all I was, was tired. Tired in body and tired in heart. Naligor was sweet enough to ‘ignore me’ for a few hours after passing me a bottle of Maiden’s Breath to let me regain my composure but Eucarion felt it necessary to used this moment to dig his malicious words into my crumpled heart even deeper by pointing out I had ignored him all day. I crumbled into Xiao’s fur and begged every goddess I could name for sleep.” Odiri’s eyes are glassy with the promise of tears as she recounts these memories but continues on knowing she will rest easy upon completing her tale.
“I was blessed with a few hours of the kind of sleep that only comes when your body has reached it’s limit. When I woke the four of us traveled in awkward silence the rest of the way to the Gaea Shrine. We hit the clearing at twilight but I had no intention of wasting time. The faster we built this waystation the faster we could go back and the faster I could get on a ship a leave this wretched place. I busied myself with whatever task I could that kept me away from him. I found myself so entirely exhausted that evening I was asleep the moment my head Xiao’s fur. The next day was nothing but manual labor. I knew the harder the work the easier it would be to sleep so I hurled myself into work. Between the 4 of us the the yurt was erected in no time. We had a bamboo and mud insulated floor, a rock lined fire pit in the center and a roof high enough to accommodate even Roth. Oranssi surprised all of us with the fact that he is a rather accomplished cook. We attempted to celebrate the successful build with braised boar stew and flowing libations but my temper got the best of me and before I realized what came out of my mouth Eucarion was gone with Charka in pursuit. At first all I could think was ‘Good! Go get stabbed by kobolds you callus ass!’ but before long I could not concentrate. My eyes strayed to the door of the yurt over and over again. Soon the words of Oranssi and Naligor were drowned out by my misgivings. ‘What if he was hurt? I know he is at least as drunk as I was. He should not be out there alone!’ I left in the middle of Naligor’s sentence without a word. I stretched my magicks out through the bamboo to locate Charka. If I could find her I could find him.”
“ Xiao lumbered behind me worried for my safety in the dark. I was nearly blind save what little filtered moonlight came through the bamboo. When I became close enough to hear Charka’s voice in my head and Eucarion’s voice in my ears speaking again on the subject of his wife Allaya, I was stopped dead in my tracks. I felt as though ice had frozen over my whole body only to break like a dam at my eyes. I was under some pathetic illusion that I had no tears left. ‘But what of your son Tannion?’ I choked on my tears, feeling like I would drown. ‘A son now too?’ Every word he said to that dog was another wave crashing over my head pushing me under. I crouched to the ground trying to regain any shred of mental equilibrium lest I be found by the sound of my heartache. I just couldn’t understand my own expectations. An elf of his age, should be married, should have children, should be home with them. Xiao distracted me momentarily, nudging at my elbow, encouraging us to go back to the yurt for more food but I pushed him away to concentrate on the conversation that had drastically shifted from his family to his affections…..for me.”
“A startled gasping sob slipped from my mouth and I knew I had been heard. He called out my name and alcohol fed compulsion had me respond in the negative. But he knew it was me. I could hear them advance on me though the bamboo. From my crouched position all I saw was his boots. He asked how much I heard. My answer affirmed that I had heard more than he probably wanted. I reached inward for the only shred of calm I had left and I stood and met his eyes. ‘ You should return to your home and family.’ I told him ‘I know what it is like to leave a family behind I know our experiences are unique and I could never compare my losses to yours but I understand. We understand. You have a family here now too’ He seemed lost in thought and mumbled ‘I don’t know if she would take me back even if I did return’ His pain was palpable and overwhelming my senses and all I wanted to do was take it away. No one deserves to live life in this kind of this pain. That tiny shred of calm dissolved as the waves of anxiety began to build again and I was left with my head in my hands. His hands found mine and held them between us so he could see my face.”
“The warmth of his hands on mine flooded my every sense and suddenly those waves pushing me under were tranquil as a pond on a still day. ‘I can’t go home, this place hold more for me, I can’t leave this’ he told me as our eye locked and our hands closed tighter onto each other. I asked boldly ‘this?’ and squeezed his hands questioningly. A flood of warmth like the sun took us both by surprise and all inhibitions seemed to drop from my mind. We hesitated realizing this was magic. As if it had a mind of its own my mouth spilled open with a profession of my favor for the beauty of his eyes. In that moment I was incapable of speaking anything but the truth. My mouth started to utter my desire for his kiss but I quickly dropped his hands to muffle myself. My cheeks burned furious with my inability to contain my words. It’s true though. All I’ve wanted since I first laid eyes upon him was to know what his lips felt like against my own. Never in my life had I been so instantly compelled by that sort of thought as I had with him. His own cheeks spread with a blush as his own truth compelled mouth divulged that he found my height adorable. I couldn't help but smile warmly. Usually my height is a joke at my expense but this was the first non-halfling person in my entire life to complement me sincerely on my stature.” Odiri smiles so brightly at the maid she it was if she was glowing from within.
“The wildflowers surrounding us without warning started to grow steadily higher as a mist that caught on the rays of moonlight swirled delicately. Undoubtedly the efforts of a certain druid. As the flowers began to climb around me Eucarion scooped me up to keep me from being engulfed by this magic driven flora. The dense muscled arms of an archer held me tight against him and I felt like I was drowning again but this time in the warmth of his skin against mine. I steadied myself by wrapping my arms around his neck. I could not help the blissful smile that spread across my face. I could feel his heartbeat thunder against me as his breath hitched. ‘I’m glad you’re staying’ I whispered to him. Within the same breath our faces drew closer and I felt that familiar snap of a spell falling. I cupped my hand against his cheek, thumbing the pair of scars there. Without hesitation we closed the distance knowing our lips would meet of our own decision not compelled by the magick that was. It was careful and delicate with the faintest taste of unspoken guilt.” She blushes distracted by the memory that still made her toes curl in her boots even days later.
“As the magic grove of flowers started to slide back to their natural state he lowered me to the ground and very purposefully met my eyes again. He squeezed my hand gently and assured me ‘I’m okay with this’. But was I? I was conflicted. This is what I wanted? Right? I wanted him to return my attentions. I wanted to hold his hand. I wanted to kiss those scars over and over until whatever caused them left his memories. How could I feel this strongly for a single creature in less than a month’s time. Especially a married one. Our hands held each other still as we returned to camp in silence after agreeing we should, if at least to hold Naligor and Oranssi accountable for their interference.I could have I would have stayed out in those woods alone with him all night but holding his hand would suffice for now. Despite the tingling numbness that grew in my arm from holding it nearly over my head to keep our hands clasped, I enjoyed it. Regardless of my conflicted thoughts. Our peaceful return to the yurt was ended in the smug yet giddy faces of Oranssi and Naligor. Any remaining doubt of their interference was squelched as they asked playfully how our evening had been. Having no patience after what ended up being both a physically and now emotionally exhausting day I set Xiao on Oranssi with a small hand gesture and the handsome elf at my side followed suit with Charka against Naligor. What could have turned into an all out brawl washed away with a wave of Oranssi’s hand. I felt calm and centered but Eucarion still seemed…troubled. I didn’t expect things to be fine and back to normal just like that but I also did not expect him to spend the rest of the evening as far from me as possible. I curled up in Xiao’s fur and watched him meditate with his back me. I realized in all of this that it was the first time I’d seen him with his hair down. It was longer than I expected.”
“The next morning I woke to the smell of the most amazing porridge being made by Oranssi. I really would have never guessed his talents for food. I ran my fingers through the mess of tufts and cowlicks that graced my head and tried to look at least a little presentable while Oranssi ladled out our breakfast. I watched Eucarion from across the firepit trying to decide if last night was a dream or not. It wouldn’t be the first time I had dreamed about him. It wasn’t until I caught his eye and a small smile peeked out from behind the mess of his undone hair. The night before wasn’t a dream. We kissed. My eyes traced his lips savoring the memory of that kiss like a sweet candy. It took me a moment to realize Oranssi and Nalgor were addressing me and I snapped out of my reverie to listen to what they had to say.”
“They feel that the town with somehow magically benefit from us encouraging more townspeople to go beyond the walls with us. While I understand the needs of industry and agree that maybe down the line it might help but I struggled to impart the concept that a town of this size and seclusion would not take kindly to rapid change. But Oranssi and Naligor charged ahead with their ideas starting with checking in on the Kami Mines. Well enough, there was a chamber I had yet to map. Our travel to the mine was casual and comfortable as sense of order had been restored to the group. When the bamboo gave way to the brilliant jade of wooded forests that reminded me so much of home.Filled with joy by this gentle green light, I scooped up a right handful of wildflowers and proceeded to toss them at Eucarion like tiny floral javelins. He had yet to tie up his glittering hair that fell in waves to his chest so it turned into a game of trying to get them to stick to his endearingly messy tresses. On my last attempt to hurl from the handful of flowers I had grabbed, he catches the small daisy and tucks is behind his ear with a playful smile over his shoulder and my heart stuttered in my chest. ‘Slow down sister’ I kept telling myself. Being this infatuated was starting to cause me to lose my focus. I hadn’t realized we had already made it to the clearing that held the mine. My eyes drifted to the rocks we sat at to make those first flower crowns. We set up camp and discovered Naligor’s new trinket, an amber stone was glowing faintly when faced Northwest. He explained its history as the wedding ring of Lady Hana from the legendary Prince Yuan. The stones magick was attuned to the physical location of Lady Hana and we knew we could use it to find her tomb and pay our respects.”
“On my morning watch an hour before the sun crested the horizon I snuck from my tent to lay yet another flower crown upon Eucarion’s meditating head. I paused just long enough to find the boldness in me to lightly kiss the scar in his left eyebrow before retreating to my duties of prepping my map making scrolls. As we entered the mouth of the cave I felt the reassuring warmth of Eucarion’s hand against the middle of my back. It flustered me for a moment because, as commonplace as casual touch is in halfling society it most definitely was not the case here. We made our way to the Giant Frog’s chamber and to both of our surprised Naligor turned into nearly a mirror image of the frog and we all conversed briefly now that we had the magicks to do so. The frog was named Third One as he was the third in his family. We found that he had fallen into that cave, poor thing, with no way out in fear of drying up. I vowed that in exchange for safe passage we would do what we could to relocate him to a safe place with more food in due time. My quest to map the uncharted chambers to the left were met with the distraction of 2 shadow creatures dispatched in the first chamber and two massive one eyed grub like monstrosities in the chamber beyond. The four of us worked surprisingly well as a team with the addition of Charka and Xiao we felt unstoppable. I did my map work and we left the mines without trouble.”
“That evening was spent in drunken revelry, Even Oranssi seemed joyous by proxy. I have memories of pinning poor Charka down to adorn her with a flower collar similar to the one he was still wearing. She was beyond upset as her jaws could not reach it to remove the offending delicate accessory. When I awoke curled up against xiao by the fireside for my shift the next morning I realized ‘The ship leaves today, I've missed my chance to escape now’ I cocked my head to the side to watch Eucarion put his boots on at the edge of his tent. When did I start enjoying such mundane things as watching him get dressed. I laughed at myself. I did not need that boat to escape what I was running from, I needed him.”
“We set off in the direction the ring guided us in for days We passed thick forests filled with life and spilled into a much lighter forest blanketed in the widest variety of flowers. Our travels were unfettered and left us to many a flower crown weaving. In my current company I knew we were all at least a little homesick for the beauty of the Vanyrian forests. A few days into the lighter forest we arrived to what was clearly an orchard that went on to the horizon in every direction. There were fruit trees and garden paths paved with stone. We happened upon once magnificent fountains now dry and crumbled with age. Benches in alcoves surely meant for whispered conversation and stolen kisses now lay empty. You couldn’t help but be overwhelmed with sadness. This place must have been a sight in it’s prime. We spotted a domed roof beyond and made that our way towards it. The closer we got a haunting echo met our ears and as the noise grew, fear hit me like a stinging rain and I reached up to grab Eucarion’s hand and pressed myself against his side. I knew that noise only from stories. It was a banshee. After a weeks travel we were in no shape to face her. As if the wall could hear my fears the key at my belt began to glow along with with the rest of our group and in a flash we were back in that same spot in the farmlands. We stood in that grassy field holding each others hand still not sure if what we were doing was allowed. We finally let go of each other and… I haven’t seen him since. It’s been at least a full day. I can’t help but worry that….this was still all some alcohol fueled day dream.” Odiri looks up at the maid hoping for some sort of answer. The maid smiled vaguely and stood from the bed pulling the empty bottle of sake away from Odiri’s hands. “I may not have all the answers for you, young halfling, but I can tell you this, if you speak from the heart to him the way you just did to me….” and turns to leave the room without finishing the advice.